Its time to start focusing on the playoffs and our potential roadblocks to Banner 18. Every day we'll bring you what's making news in enemy territory. This way we know what they're up to when it comes time to take 'em out.
FIRST ROUND OPPONENT
The Knicks Blog: Just like the 1989-90 Boston Celtics were vulnerable. Quite frankly, the parallels are amazing. Like the Bird-led model, this crop of cagers from Beantown are flat-out old. Spare me the “experienced” stuff and the “DNA” pleasantries, not interested. Old is old. Larry Bird was 34, Kevin McHale was 32, Robert Parish was 36 and Dennis Johnson was 35. Well guess what? 40 may be the new “20″ in fashion magazines, but not in the NBA. In the NBA, speed and athleticism and explosion is rewarded. Anything other than that is exploited.
ESPN NY: In 27 games with the New York Knicks, Anthony has averaged 26.3 points on 46 percent shooting. In the Knicks' recent seven-game winning streak, those numbers jumped to 30.9 points per game on 49 percent shooting from beyond the arc. The cumulative effect didn't just put the Knicks as the No. 6 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, destined for a first-round encounter with Boston. It also put a bull's-eye on Anthony — the franchise-caliber player starved for a spot in the limelight, in a city anxious to see whether he's worth all the Knicks bargained for him. "I'm here to do what I do," Anthony explained recently. "I know what kind of player I am, and what I want to accomplish. The playoffs are just step one." Winning would be another.
Heat Index: On the eve of the Miami Heat's much anticipated 2011 playoffs debut, guard Dwyane Wade took a moment Friday to reflect on how the final scenes played out in his most recent painful postseason exit. It was this time a year ago that Wade, dejected and frustrated, walked into the makeshift press conference room in Boston's TD Garden after the Heat were eliminated by the Celtics in five games. Wade pulled out the middle chair, sat down and subtly shifted a bottle of sports drink to the side as he glared into television cameras and fielded questions about yet another first-round-playoff failure.
Sun Sentinel: During a team meeting Thursday, coach Erik Spoelstra made sure the players saw the Heat's NBA championship trophy from the 2005-06 season. He did the same back in October before the season-opener. "I introduced them again to Mr. Larry O'Brien," Spoelstra said. "We had it in our meeting and started off the season meeting Larry O'Brien. We wanted to finish our regular-season meeting and the start of this second season with that as a reminder of what we're playing for." LeBron James called seeing the trophy "motivational and inspirational."
ESPN Chicago: With the playoffs opening Saturday at the United Center, Chicago Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau put the team through a two-hour practice. A half-hour after it ended, the first-year coach was working one-on-one withJoakim Noah on his post moves. "I feel really lucky I have a coach like that," Noah said afterward, dripping with sweat. "He's really hungry in every aspect. He works me out after practice. He's the first one here writing stuff on the board. You know he's in here until 12 o'clock at night. He lives for this."
By the Horns: I’ve read other playoff previews. I’ve sorted through stats. I’ve made an honest effort. Still…I can’t find a single reason to fear the Indiana Pacers. Indiana has the worst record (37-45) of any of this year’s playoff teams. I keep hearing that the Pacers made a strong run under coach Frank Vogel. And, sure, 20-18 is better than the 17-27 record they had under Jim O’Brien. But the Pacers are only 13-15 since the All-Star break.
Magic Basketball: When it comes to championship contenders in the NBA, there’s five teams that are universally agreed upon — for the most part. Ranking them by their efficiency differentials, they are the Miami Heat (+8.6), Chicago Bulls (+8.1), Los Angeles Lakers (+6.6), San Antonio Spurs (+6.6), and Boston Celtics (+6.2). And since their trades, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets get pub too. Then there’s the Orlando Magic, sandwiched in between those teams with an efficiency differential of +6.6, right between the Lakers and Spurs.
Sentinel: J.J. Redick practiced with his Orlando Magic teammates this morning at Amway Center and appears to be on track to play when his team opens its first-round series against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday night. "I did the whole practice with no limitations, no issues," Redick said. "I made it through. "I'm still under evaluation," he added. "We're going to see how it responds as today goes on and tomorrow morning. But, hopefully, if all goes well, I'll be available for tomorrow night."
Silver Screen and Roll: The last champion to lose four straight games was the 2006 Miami Heat. The last champion to lose five straight was the 1995 Houston Rockets. The last champion to have losing streaks of both 4 and 5 games in the same season? It probably hasn't happened yet. Besides, what those teams have in common is that they were probably the two weakest champions of the past 30 years, Miami the benefactor of a weak conference (they were the 2nd seed with 52 wins) and some of the most controversial NBA Finals officiating in memory, while Houston took advantage of the power vacuum which existed in the league's two non-Jordan years. If the Lakers are to join that "illustrious" group, they will have no such luck. This year's crop of contenders is as dense as any in recent memory, with plenty of teams from both sides of the country having legitimate dreams of postseason success.
OC Register: Yet Bryant this season had two options that ran contrary to the very crux of who he is … and he actually picked them both. Bryant almost completely stopped taking part inLakers practice. And he played five minutes fewer per Lakers game than last season. Considering Bryant's competitiveness and love for the game have never been questioned in a career where everything else has, this has been a one-two punch to the jutting Kobe jaw. Bryant's warrior within had to surrender the battlefield to fight another day. Today is that day.
Project Spurs: "We feel pretty confident about it," said Grizzlies forward Darrell Arthur. "I think it's a good matchup for us." Arthur: "I feel like we can win a series." Mike Conley: "There's no reason we can't play the Spurs and we can't beat the Spurs."
My SA: Spurs guard Manu Ginobili still is listed as doubtful for Sunday’s playoff opener against the Memphis Grizzlies, despite some intensive work at the end of the Spurs’ practice and the confidence from his teammates that he will play. Ginobili spent most of the end of practice shooting, his sprained right elbow immobilized by a brace that appeared to limit his shooting range.
ESPN Dallas: The Mavericks have more than three times as much playoff experience as these Trail Blazers. The players on the Dallas roster have appeared in 576 playoff games. The Portland players have appeared in only 186, fewer than every playoff team except the Pacers and Hornets. The Mavs are wise enough to know that while experience could be an advantage, it guarantees absolutely nothing in a series.
ESPN Dallas: Rodrigue Beaubois (sprained left foot) is out for tonight's Game 1 and DeShawn Stevensonis jacked for his first meaningful playoff action in three years when he was with the Washington Wizards. Stevenson, who has never advanced past the first round in his career, will open tonight's first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers starting at shooting guard. He played all of six minutes in six games last year against the San Antonio Spurs, and until Dallas Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle pulled the plug on Beaubois as a starter in the regular-season finale — Beaubois then sprained his left foot in an appearance off the bench — Stevenson didn't figure to be called on much this postseason either.
NewsOK: Nuggets coach George Karl has two quality point guards. He likes to use them at the same time, even though both Ty Lawson (5-foot-11) and Raymond Felton (6-foot-1) are on the smallish side. But the Thunder might negate Denver's mighty mite lineup. In two games last week against the Thunder, the Nuggets did not play well when Lawson and Felton shared the court together.
NewsOK: Kendrick Perkins and Nazr Mohammed: No more warm fuzzies when opponents speak about the Thunder and it's primarily because of these two guys, who back down from no one. Youth is served: The Thunder is young, gifted and — oddly enough — the players like each other. Sometimes they just don't know any better, but their exuberance off-sets any shortcomings.